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New Voices Invests in a New Regional News Model, Community and Niche Web Sites

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Ten innovative citizen media projects have been selected as this year’s New Voices grant winners and will each receive up to $17,000 in start-up funding.

Many of this year’s winners focus on special-interest communities as well as geographic locales. One grantee will create a new model for regional news coverage in Ohio and Indiana. Others will start news and social networking sites for war veterans, families of prisoners, aviation buffs, immigrant and Native American communities and the eco-conscious.

The winners were selected from a record 312 applicants, J-Lab: The Institute for Interactive Journalism announced today. With this year’s projects, a total of 40 community news start-ups have been funded from 845 entries since 2005.

“These winners want to build new avenues producing local news and new ways to invite citizens to share particular expertise,” said Jan Schaffer, director of J-Lab, which administers the New Voices program.

Grant winners will receive $12,000 in the first year to launch their projects and $5,000 in matching support in the second year. The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation funds the New Voices program.

“The number of applicants signals the growing interest in the power of citizen media to create a sense of place for all kinds of communities,” said Gary Kebbel, Knight’s journalism program officer.

“New Voices has seeded some of the most exciting examples of journalism – and of active citizenship – in the United States today,” said New Voices Advisory Board member Peter Levine, director of CIRCLE, The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement.

The 2008 New Voices grantees are:

  • Miami-Whitewater Valley Public Media Project. Partnering higher learning with public and commercial media, this project will create a regional news service for Southwest Ohio and East Central Indiana. Citizen journalists and students at Miami University and Earlham College will produce stories for an interactive Web site and content will be shared with local mainstream media. Pilot partners include WMUB and WECI public radio, the Cincinnati Business Journal, Cox Ohio newspapers in Dayton, Hamilton, Oxford and Middletown, and Gannett’s Palladium-Item in Richmond, Indiana. They seek to create a new model for covering regional news.
  • The Kentucky Citizen Media Project: The Lexington Commons. A University of Kentucky partnership will build a digital neighborhood newspaper. While it will highlight Lexington news, the leaders also hope to build a sense of community across lines of race, ethnicity and income. The university’s Department of Community and Leadership Development is spearheading the project in partnership with the University’s Cooperative Extension Service, which will help recruit citizen reporters, and the Department of Agricultural Communications, which will launch and maintain the project’s Web site.
  • Grass Roots: Digital Journalism in the Nation’s Birthplace of Aviation. Kent State journalism professors will mentor student reporters and general aviators to cover Ohio’s 166 public airports, 772 private airfields and 18,000 pilots. Reporters will take photos, audio and video to go on a central Web site. The project also plans to produce mini-documentaries and a book. Content will be available to the Akron Beacon-Journal’s, local public television stations and the university’s NPR affiliate.
  • Cool State Online. California State University-Los Angeles journalism students and faculty will partner with community groups to launch “micro-bureaus” to cover the San Gabriel Valley’s largely Asian and Latino community. Computer science grad students will help build a news management system for the project.
  • Green Jobs Philly. A Philadelphia Web entrepreneur will spearhead a new Web site and quarterly publication to cover “green” jobs, grants, and economic initiatives by local businesses, universities and nonprofits. The site plans to translate content to Spanish, Chinese and Vietnamese in the future.
  • The Appalachian Independent. Civic group will create a bi-weekly online newspaper community for the rural community around Frostburg, Maryland, modeled on the National League of Cities’ Inclusive Community Program. Frostburg State University and Allegany College of Maryland students and faculty will participate.
  • Immigration: The View from Here. KBUT-FM community radio in Crested Butte, Colorado, will explore the local impact of immigration, which has tripled in the last decade in rural Gunnison Valley. The station will train citizen journalists and produce stories for its daily news show and 30-minute specials. All content will be in English, with Spanish translations posted online. The station will share MP3 files of the features with all the state’s community radio stations.
  • Voices of Rural Alaska. Koahnic Broadcast Corp. will train people in remote Alaskan native villages to record interviews, first-person diaries and reports on issues that affect their daily lives. One-to-three minute segments will be broadcast monthly on KNBA-FM and National Native News. They will also be available online as podcasts and offered to the Alaska Public Radio network.
  • Voices for Veterans. A community technology center in Columbia, S.C., will create a social network and information Web site for returning veterans. Three nearby military bases and a VA Hospital provide a ready audience for monthly Webcasts and a moderated blog. The project will focus on jobs, services, GI bill benefits, counseling and transition to civilian employment.
  • Family Life Behind Bars. A CUNY Graduate School of Journalism professor and students will create a Web site for families of prisoners. Users will be able to share information and tell stories about the financial, social and emotional impact of incarceration, separation and stigma on their lives.

Participating in the selection were New Voices Advisory Board members:

  • Charles B. Fancher, president, Fancher Associates Inc., Annapolis, MD.
  • Jane Brown, executive director, Robert W. Deutsch Foundation.
  • Bill Gannon, Director of Online Production & Programming, Lucasfilm Ltd.
  • Bruce Koon, News Director, KQED Public Radio, San Francisco.
  • Peggy Kuhr, Dean, University of Montana School of Journalism.
  • Peter Levine, director of CIRCLE.
  • Donna M. Reed, vice president of news and multimedia, Media General.
  • Adam Clayton Powell III, Vice Provost for Globalization, University of Southern California.
  • Thomas Kunkel, Dean, Philip Merrill College of Journalism, University of Maryland, College Park.
  • Jan Schaffer, executive director, J-Lab.

Track the progress of New Voices grantees online at, where quarterly updates, news and features are posted. Follow other citizen media developments at the Knight Citizen News Network (

Knight Foundation promotes excellence in journalism worldwide and interests in the vitality of 26 U.S. communities where the Knight brothers owned newspapers. Four of the 2008 New Voices projects are in Knight communities.

J-Lab helps news organizations and citizens use digital technologies to develop new ways for people to participate public life. J-Lab supports and spotlights journalism innovations, interactive storytelling, citizen media, entrepreneurship and research.

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